Hungarian History

The History of Hungary

In the A.D. 800s, a group of nomads called Magyars migrated from their home near the Ural Mountains westward to present-day Hungary. The Magyars settled in the grasslands along the Danube River where they found grazing land for their sheep and cattle. So began the story of Hungary....

The Magyars entering the Pannonian plain from the Chronicon Pictum, 1360 (Source: Chronicon Pictum (1358–1370) Illustrated chronicle of Hungarian history. – Bibliotheca Corviniana Digitalis)

The Hungarian people trace their ancestry back to this group of nomads (traveling people) and still call themselves Magyars. Hungary’s first monarch, King Stephen I, or István, ruled from A.D. 997 until 1038.

He was a strong leader who converted the Magyars to Christianity and united them under a central government. It is also said that he personally oversaw the construction of Eger's Castle in the early 11th century.

King Stephen Hungary Coronation Mantle

St. Stephen's original coronation mantle. It was sewed in the 11th century and is the only contemporaneous image of Hungary's first Christian king that we have. Originally it was a chasuble that was donated by St. Stephan and Giselle to the church of Székesfehérvár in 1031. It was transformed into a coronation mantle probably during the reign of Kálmán (1095-1116) Today, it can be seen in Hungary's National Museum

Much of King Stephen’s work, however, was undone by the weak kings who followed him, making Hungary an easy target for the Mongols who invaded in the mid-1200s. The Mongols left when their leader died.

mongols Hungary

The Mongols in Hungary 1285. Hungary.Budapest, fol. 64 verso, Inv. no. Clmae 404 From the Chronicum Pictum in Hungary's National Library. The dismounted Mongols, with captured women, are on the left, the Hungarians, with one saved woman, on the right.

The reign of King Matthias Corvinus, between 1458 and 1490, was a high point in Hungarian history. King Matthias had a strong government backed by a powerful army. He made Hungary an important cultural center by sponsoring artists and scholars.

This period was also an outstanding time in Hungarian culinary history. Traditional Hungarian ways of cooking were blended with western European techniques. Chefs were as important as wealthy landowners.

Corvinus Coat of arms

According to legend, Matthias Hunyadi adopted the Latin family name 'Corvinus', meaning raven in English, because his mother sent for him with a raven with a ring in its beak. The raven is said to have flown non-stop from Transylvania to Prague and thus the boy king of Ravens was crowned (he was only 15 on his accession to the throne). The raven-with-ring motif became part of the family crest.

In 1526 the Ottomans took over much of Hungary.  It was during their campaign to occupy the country in 1552 that the heroic defense of Eger castle took place, one of the few bright points in this period in Hungarian history.

The Ottomans remained in the country until the end of the 1600s, when the Hapsburgs of Austria defeated them.

1526 battle of mohacs

Defeat at the Battle of Mohacs (pictured above by German artist Johann Schreire 1555) in 1526 signaled the end of Medieval Hungary. By the end of the day, 15000 Hungarians lay dead including King Louis II, who, pinned down by his mount, drowned in what can only be described as a puddle.

The Habsburgs ruled Hungary with a heavy hand until an uprising, lasting from 1703 until 1711, forced them to allow the Hungarians more self-rule.

The mid-1800s was a time of revolution in many countries in Europe, and Hungary was no exception. Idealistic young people, led by the poet Sándor Petófi started a revolt on March 15, 1848 and the liberal politician, Lajos Kossuth (1802–1894) became the first governor of Hungary. After some early successes the revolt was put down by the Hapsburgs in 1849.

petofi sandor

Sándor Petőfi is considered Hungary's national poet. Not your typical man of letters, he was one of the key players in the revoution of 1848 and it is believed that he died at the Battle of Segesvar in 1849: his body was never recovered. His 'Nemzeti Dal' (National Song) is recited throughout Hungary on the anniversary of the revolution

In 1867, after Austria had lost two wars, Hungary forced the weakened country to form the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. This arrangement made Austria and Hungary two equal countries with one ruler. Although this gave Hungary more control over its own affairs, many Hungarians still wanted complete independence.

dual monarchy coat of arms 1867

In 1867 the Kingdoms of Hungary and Austria merged to form the 'Dual Monarchy' - indivisible and inseparable. With a territory of more than 675,000 square kilometres and with the population of more than 50 million, Austria-Hungary was one of the largest empires in Europe at the beginning of 20th century.

The economy was booming but millions of impoverished Hungarians sought refuge in emigration. In 1914 the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, which led to the beginning of World War I (1914–1918).

Shortly after Austria-Hungary’s defeat at the end of the war, Hungary declared itself an independent republic. The country shrunk to its present-day size according to the terms of the peace treaty following World War I.

hungary trianon 1920

The Treaty of Trianon in 1920, was extremely harsh on Hungary and, many claim, unjustifiably one-sided. The resulting treaty cost Hungary an unprecedented 2/3 of her territory, and 1/2 of her total population or 1/3 of her ethnic-Hungarian population. Add to this the loss of all her seaports, up to 90% of her vast natural resources, industry, railways, and other infrastructure. The perceived unfairness of the treaty led directly to Hungary joining the Axis in World War II and continues to dominate the nation's politics.

In World War II (1939–1945), Hungary became an ally of Nazi Germany when Adolf Hitler promised to restore some of the territory that Hungary had lost in World War I. But Hitler soon turned on his Hungarian allies and controlled the country until the Germans were defeated in 1945. Whole Hungarian armies and 600,000 Hungarian Jews perished in the war, which left the country in ruins.

horthy horse

Admiral Horthy, the Hungarian Regent from 1920-44, is a divisive figure. There are those who label him an anti-Semite (undoubtedly true) who worked hand in hand with the Nazis and then there are others who believe that it was he, who in 1944 managed to save the Jewish Ghetto in Budapest by demanding that the deportations of Hungarian Jews cease.

Hungary became a Communist country soon after the end of the war. Under the Communist regime, the arts and other cultural traditions were limited along with many freedoms and civil liberties.

In 1956 there was another revolution in Hungary, crushed by Soviet tanks. It was followed by yet another wave of emigration; about 200,000 people left the country within a few weeks.

Images from 1956 uprising

The fall of the European Communist governments—including Hungary’s—has brought many changes. Hungary became an independent republic again in 1989. Hungary joined the NATO alliance in 1999 and has become a member of the European Union.

Hungary has been a full member of the EU since May 1st, 2004. It has been a fractious relationship. Despite Hungary receiving more than 4 Billion Euros in subsidies from the EU, the country's government under Viktor Orban has clashed with the Commission on a number of issues most notably over the treatment of refugees. There will come a point when the other member countries of the Union have to take decisive action over Hungary, for now, though, Orban is having his cake and eating it.

Hungary's status as a liberal democracy and member of the European Union has been questioned by the increasingly authoritarian actions of populist right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Orban has concentrated an unprecedented amount of power in his hands while alarming other EU leaders with his brand of nationalist populism.

In 2018 his party, Fidesz, won a third term after his anti-immigration campaign  secured a large majority, granting him two-thirds of the seats. Such a majority allows him to alter the Hungarian Constitution at will which only strengthens his power.

Hungarian history is being rewritten by this man.....

Viktor Orban Putin

Orban's 'illiberal democracy' is founded on his belief that authoritarian systems like those in China, Turkey and Russia are a more appropriate model than Western liberal democracies. This 'turn to the East' has only widened the division between the EU and Hungary

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